Wikipedia’s definition of vaporware:

Vaporware is a word used to describe products, usually computer hardware or software, not released on the date announced by their developer, or announced months or years before their release.

This morning the lead story on Techmeme is the news that HP is killing off their Windows 7 tablet and Microsoft is killing their Courier tablet product.

There is a long history of vaporware in this business. The Palm Foleo is another good example. Unfortuntately it happens all the time with big companies.

While some big companies (may) get away with vaporware backlash from time to time we know they will continue to do it and somehow they get away with it.

On the other hand, startups do not get away with it. Get a vaporware badge as a startup and you’re dead. A startups early community of users and customers are and feel joined at the hip with the company. So when a founder says we are building xyz, they need to do just that.

Many startups often stay mum about new products coming down the pike. They don’t want to give their secrets away too early or their might be too much risk associated with the schedule which might change.

But if that product becomes significantly delayed or if the project gets canceled, I believe the company should communicate why they made their decision, clearly and directly. That’s the best way to handle it and avoid the vaporware stigma.

The toll collector

There are a number of healthy ecosystems that have evolved where the catalyst charges and collects a toll.

Classic examples include the credit card industry or the iTunes app store.

MasterCard and Visa charge a fee and many other entities can build businesses and products on top. Everyone in that value chain can make a living. And the rates are well understood for the most part.

Same is true with the app store. Build an app, sell it in the store and pay apple a toll.
The rate card for the toll is available to everyone for the most part and well understood.

In a way the MasterCard/visa and app store service is a utility. Pay as you go. It’s on demand. And they let you do your thing. There are no punitive annual minimum fees to the “developer”.

I think other markets would be well served by following a similar model of a utility and a smooth toll.

Few examples:

-Carriers. The carriers have a billing relationship with their users. They should make it easy for any developer to go to their website, sign up/apply, and allow mobile payments in their app. And if they lower their fees it will enable (tens of) thousands of new developers to build cool stuff that can’t or won’t do it now. Right now I have to go thru a third party and the number of third parties is limited. Or I can try to cut a one off deal which could take months at best (Same thing with data btw).

-Content. Let’s say I want to have NYT’s arts section to my blog everyday. To my knowledge there is no easy way to syndicate. Same thing if I want to distribute a tv show on my blog. Give me an easy, clean, rev share and lots of developers and companies will do it.

-Music. Where do I start? The labels have made it impossible to do business or create a viable ecosystem. If you build an amazing app that has the power to break emerging new artists, like college radio back in the day, there is no easy way to pay a reasonable win-win toll. The terrestrial radio guys have a smooth way of paying but anyone doing it online gets the hammer of thor1. Its hurts innovation. It hurts users and it ultimately hurts artists and labels. I know many VCs that won’t touch the space.

There are plenty of problems and issues using mastercard and apple as examples. They have their own issues that demand improvement. But they have growing, healthy ecosystems that other markets could learn from.

  1. one of the execs in our portfolio used this expression the other day about an unrelated issue. I’ve been dying to use it in a post. ↩︎

Ordered the 3g iPad

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my ipad over the last few weeks.

It truly has reduced the amount of time I spend with my MacBook Air. It’s lighter, more comfortable to use and the battery life is dreamy. And it’s just fun to use.

I agree with Marco, the Apple iPad case has some real issues. But it’s the best case for my needs. I like how it props up in landscape mode. It fits perfectly in my bag.

It seems like every day I’m finding new apps or new ways to use this thing. The other day I discovered Google Streetview in the built in maps app. It’s like looking into the future every time I tap and virtually walk down a street. The camera connection kit should arrive any day now which is perfect timing for our upcoming trip to Paris.

Even though I’m digging the iPad, I decided to hit the order button on the 3g iPad today. I just travel too much to rely on WiFi and the battery life on the MiFi doesn’t hold up. I want to carry less things not more.

Anyway, I know a number of folks are disappointed with the iPad1. I’m just not one of them.

  1. on the other hand, the name iPad is ridiculous. I felt that way when it was announced and feel that way everytime i say it outloud. ↩︎

Startups & the product roadmap

In early stage startups, it’s not particularly helpful to obsess about long term financial projections – especially the revenue projections because we know it’s not always up and to the right.  

The same is often true with long term product roadmaps.

Often times in board meetings we talk about a startup’s product plan. For an early stage startup the product is practically everything so it’s little surprise that the product roadmap are the basis for the strategic direction of the company.

And depending on the scale of the product, the product plan also informs the capital requirements (# of people required, etc) and an important way to keep everyone in the company focused on the task at hand. 

But just like long term financial projections aren’t very helpful for an early stage consumer startup, long term product plans aren’t either. 

It’s not because I don’t care about the long term product plan. It’s just less important to me because in my experience things change quite a bit.

I used to tease Avner at Boxee quite a bit about this. 

I remember our first board mtg, Avner shared a product plan for the next twelve months. Then, before the very next board meeting he shipped a bunch of new things that weren’t on the roadmap. It’s not because his roadmap was bull*&t. Rather, he would see opportunities in the market, listen to his users and then create and launch. And that approach paid off and continues to pay off.  

To me that’s something I look for when I’m considering a seed or series A investment. I not taken with a 18month product plan etched in stone with pre-defined alpha and beta dates1 . I’m more interested in learning if the founders have the talent and desire to move, innovate and create quickly. 

Combine that with a compelling alpha product or prototype and I’m leaning way forward.

  1. this post is about consumer web and mobile startups. I realize that for infrastructure startups the roadmap and scope can be quite different.  ↩︎

Wishing Rob Go the very best

After 2+ years, Rob Go has decided to leave Spark.

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Rob over these years. He’s one of the nicest guys I know in this business, and he has helped us in so many ways. We at Spark will miss working with him and wish him all the very best. 

Filling Rob’s shoes won’t be easy, but I am delighted to report that we’ve hired a Senior Associate to join the firm.  He’s fantastic and someone we’ve known for a few years now. Unfortunately I can’t share his name just yet…but we will soon…so stay tuned!

We are also continuing to look for another Associate to join the firm.  If you haven’t done so already, you can apply for the job by telling us about yourself in an email to

Sunday at the doctor’s office

On Friday, James wasn’t feeling well. Fever, sore throat, the whole thing. So Lauren took him to our peditrician. And we found out that he had strep throat. The doctor wrote us a prescription and said that she wanted to see James Sunday (today) for a follow up. 

I thought to myself that Sunday was a bit unsual but we made the appointment.

Today I took James to see the doctor. He’s going to be fine but on the way out, something clicked. It was about my dad.

* * *

My dad is 70 years old. He’s been practicing medicine for longer than I’ve been alive. A few years ago he retired but after 6 months he went back to work. Yes, that’s right, after 6 months he went back to work.

He sees patients every day and also keeps office ours on Saturdays. Still. He gives out his mobile number to his patients and they call him all the time. 7 days a week. This has been going on as long as I can possibly remember. He carries his iPhone everywhere.

I thought I knew why my dad worked this hard his whole life. He enjoyed his work and was also providing for his family (along with my mom who works like crazy still to this day as well. She’s a doctor and at age 60-something, she works 5 days a week)

But my dad’s office hours on Saturday always felt odd to me. Especially at age 70. What’s he doing? 

Today when I left the pediatrician’s office the obvious point hit me between the eyes. These folks love their work. They care about their patients. They will do whatever it takes to help.

As a little kid and now a big kid, I often wished my dad would work less and enjoy life more. But that’s just it. He is enjoying his life. And it’s inspiring.

* * *

side note: as we were leaving the office, there was another sick little boy about James’ age (4 or 5) in the lobby. He saw my boy’s Yankees shirt and said outloud, “Yankees? I don’t like the Yankees”. James looked at the kid and replied, “I don’t like the Red Sox”.

It was a proud moment for sure :) 

Some thoughts about privacy

I should probably know better than take on an issue like privacy when I’m in a hurry and jotting down a post on my iPhone but I can’t help myself.

Here goes…

This week there has been a lot of heat about our privacy. The nyt ran a story about “over sharing”, facebook now makes our data available in more places, blippy caught some tough press about a credit card leak and I’m sure there were reports about other issues as well.

That combined with past statements by Internet execs saying “privacy is over” etc etc.

It’s a tough combo.

My quick thoughts

First, privacy isn’t dead and it’s still important to many of us that choose to live in public (yours truly included)

At the same time there is a huge benefit of sharing openly with others.

So, where is the rub?

In my mind it’s all about choice and “front door” vs “back door”

Services like Twitter, blippy, tumblr etc are all explicitly for people want to share openly. These services and others like them self select folks that are comfortable sharing openly and they self filter what choose to post and what they don’t. I call this “front door”. Data comes in and it’s clear where it goes.

There are other services where it’s not clear where your data goes once the app gets a hold of your data. If you joined a service thinking your data was intended to be private and then gets sold or distributed without you knowing then I call that “back door”. It leaves out the back when you weren’t looking.

Now let’s get specific.

When facebook makes it hard to keep your data private and you have to dial dozens of privacy controls then that’s not cool in my book (the eff post was dizzying about this issue). Most people joined fb thinking there data was only available to the people that received permission in the first place.

Blippy had a bug or someone hacked into their system and lost some credit cards. That was a mistake and I’m confident that the team will make remedies and fix that to the best of their abilities. Many services will make mistakes since we are all human. I’m happy to trust that these services will do right by me. If netflix for example accidently let’s a hacker in then I will forgive them since I know they will fix it.

If I didn’t have that attitude I wouldn’t buy stuff online etc. The benefit outweighs the risk.

Ultimately there is a difference between explicit sharing vs unknown sharing. Bugs may happen in the former but I’ll take that all day long over the latter.

(pardon the lack of links or typos)

Facebook is the [social graph] market leader for sure. But its not winner takes all because its just too big of a category for innovation & creativity. Right now my social network for music isn’t on facebook (instead it’s on hypemachine and tumblr). My photo social net is on tumblr and flickr. My social net for television is Boxee. My information social net is Twitter. Foursquare and Twitter are my social net for places & events. The list goes on.

Thoughts about “the winner takes it all” –

the idea of reblogging myself turns my stomach a bit but this post came to mind when i read fred and albert’s mighty fine thoughts this morning.